This is part 1 of IHO’s 2017-18 Ivy League team-by-team season preview. Read part 2 here.
The rise of the Ivy League is projected to continue.
The Ancient Eight is slated by KenPom as the 13th-best conference in Division I this season, just seven years after it placed 26th. That’s a quantum leap, a product of the league’s bolstered recruiting in that time frame. The Ivy hoops status quo now consists of top-25 recruiting classes, Nike Skills Academy members and expectations of NCAA Tournament success.
There’s a three-way cluster between Harvard, Princeton and Yale projected to top the league. In the Ivy Preseason Media Poll, Yale received the most first-place votes (eight) but Harvard garnered the most points overall. Without a clear conference favorite, it’s quite likely that the regular season champion will not also be the conference tournament winner, with Bart Torvik’s Ivy Tourney Simulator tabbing Penn as the favorite in an Ivy tourney as a No. 4 seed.
The leaves remain unnaturally green, the air temperature dips into the upper 70s and the Quaker football team uncharacteristically turns Franklin Field into a house of horrors. All of this can only mean one thing: the upcoming Ivy hoops season cannot be far behind. (And, of course, the Earth is going to burn like a cinder in space.) And once again it is I, The AQ, bringing you another year of outstanding Penn basketball coverage as I faithfully have for IHO since 1947.
After then-sophomore guard Jackson Donahue hit his first shot of the game with 6.3 seconds left in Penn’s regular season finale against Harvard, the Quakers earned the hard-fought 75-72 victory, completed an improbable comeback in league play and secured the final spot in the inaugural Ivy Tournament.
One week later, Penn, playing on its home court as the No. 4 seed, held a two-point lead over top-rated Princeton with 12 seconds left. Unfortunately for the Quakers, then-senior Matt Howard missed the front end of a one-and-one and the Tigers tied the game with 5.3 seconds left, sending the contest into overtime. Princeton dominated the extra period, ending Penn’s up-and-down, yet ultimately successful 2016-17 season.
Jonathan Tannenwald’s been an insightful reporter on Ivy League and Big 5 basketball for Philly.com, and before that, The Daily Pennsylvanian, for 15 years. He’s been a guest multiple times on our On the Vine podcast and he’s been a generous resource, mentor and friend to many at The DP, Penn’s student newspaper, over the years.
Just moments after his Yale Bulldogs were eliminated by the Princeton Tigers in the inaugural Ivy League Tournament, James Jones faced a contingent of media reps seeking his analysis of the tourney final.
Jones does not parse his words. He said that during a timeout in the second half, called to halt the gathering Tiger momentum, he noticed on the stat sheet that Myles Stephens, the Tiger sophomore, had scored 18 points. He turned to an assistant and asked, “How did that happen? That’s the quietest 18 points I have ever seen.” He described Stephens as “the silent assassin.”
Everybody can take away from the inaugural Ivy League Tournament semifinals what they wish. Anti-tournament folks can point to the folly of a team that finished 6-8 in league play essentially hosting a squad that went 14-0. Pro-Palestra Ivy observers can point to what was a rollicking atmosphere with a mostly full arena during the first men’s semifinal. Pro-tournament, anti-Palestra fans can look to the dip in attendance following Penn-Princeton to make the case for a tourney at a neutral location more geographically equidistant for all the Ivies.
What a long, strange trip it’s been …
@IvyLeagueNet Thanks, Harvard was great in Shanghai
— Bill Walton (@BillWalton) November 14, 2016
This has been a crazy season for Ivy League basketball, all 16 weeks of it. From Harvard’s starting the season 14 hours away in Shanghai to Penn’s regular season-ending triumph over the Crimson Saturday night, this season has been full of surprises and unusual trends.
Let me begin by offering coach Steve Donahue and the entire Quakers team an unconditional retraction. After their loss to Princeton two short weeks ago, it appeared their inconsistent play would keep them out of the Ivy League Tournament – to which I said, “Well, that ends that.”
Well, that ends that.
Penn’s season is officially over less than halfway through the Ivy schedule. Ironically, if not for the Ivy Tournament, the team probably would have been out after the first weekend. It has been quite a rugged six games through the Ancient Eight for the Quakers. The Ivy League is known for smart people, and it seems the Ivy coaches have effortlessly figured out how to neutralize the one-dimensional nature of the young Penn players. Thus what had begun in Philadelphia as a campaign of hope and promise has now ended in abject disappointment.